You Can’t Kill the Rooster
He’ll never hold elected office or own more than one sport coat, but you won’t find anyone more loyal than my younger brother
By David Sedaris | Jun 1, 1998
When I was young, my father was transferred, and our family moved from western New York State to Raleigh, North Carolina. IBM had relocated a great many northerners, and, together, we made relentless fun of our new neighbors and their poky, backward way of life. Rumors circulated that locals ran stills out of their toolsheds and referred to their house cats as “good eatin’.” Our parents coached us never to use the titles ma’am or sir when speaking to a teacher or shopkeeper. Tobacco was acceptable in the form of a cigarette, but should any of us experiment with plug or snuff, we would be automatically disinherited. Mountain Dew was forbidden, and our speech was monitored for the slightest hint of a Raleigh accent. Use the word y’all and,
before you knew it, you’d find yourself in a haystack French-kissing an underage goat. Along with grits and hush puppies, the abbreviated form of”you all” was a dangerous step on an insidious path leading straight to the doors of the Baptist church.
We might not have been the wealthiest People in town, but at least we weren’t one of them.
Our family remained free from outside influence until 1968, when my mother gave birth to my brother, Paul, a North Carolina native who has since grown to become both my father’s best ally and worst nightmare. Here was a child who, by the time he had reached second grade, spoke much like the toothless fishermen casting their nets into Albemarle Sound. This is the thirty-year-old son who now phones his father to say, “Motherfucker, I ain’t seen pussy in so long I’d throw stones at it.”
My brother’s voice, like my own, is high-pitched and girlish. Telephone solicitors frequently ask to speak to our husbands, and room-service operators appease us by saying, “That shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes, Mrs. Sedaris.” The Raleigh accent is soft and beautifully cadenced, but my brother’s is a more complex hybrid, informed by his professional relationships with marble-mouthed, deep-country laborers and his abiding love of hardcore rap music. He talks so fast, ‘you find yourself concentrating on the gist of his message rather than trying to decipher the actual words. It’s like speaking to a foreigner and understanding only the terms motherfucker, bitch, and hoss and the phrase “You can’t kill the Rooster.”
“The Rooster” is what Paul calls himself when he’s feeling threatened. Asked how he came up with that name, he says only, “Certain motherfuckers think they can fuck with my shit, but you can’t kill the Rooster. You might can fuck him up sometimes, but, bitch, nobody kills the motherfucking Rooster. You know what I’m saying?”
It often seems that my brother and I were raised in two completely different households. He’s eleven years younger than I am, and by the time he reached high school, the rest of us had all left home. When I was young, we weren’t allowed to say “shut up,” but by the time Paul reached his teens, it had become acceptable to shout, “Shut your motherfucking mouth.” The drug laws had changed as well. “No smoking pot” became “No smoking pot in the house,” before it finally petered out to “Please don’t smoke any pot in the living room.”
My mother was, for the most part, delighted with my brother and regarded him with the bemused curiosity of a brood hen discovering she has hatched a completely different species.